“To Uhtred, the true lord of Bebbanburg; a man I have never understood but without whom I would not die a king.” King Alfred in THE LAST KINGDOM.
THE LAST KINGDOM is a tv drama based on a series of novels about a hero named Uhtred. It is FICTION set in a historical time and place, peopled with fictional characters like Uhtred, Finan, Sihtric, Brida and Hild, as well as characters based on historical figures such as King Alfred, members of Alfred’s family, and viking warlords like Haesten and Guthred. It frequently dramatizes documented or legendary historical events such as Alfred’s flight into the fens of Somerset or the battles at Ethandun and Benfleet. The dramatic story of Uhtred is set against the backdrop of a much larger story, which is the making of England. We know this much from the words of the novelist, Bernard Cornwell.
So, while Uhtred has his own overall goal (to retake his rightful place as lord of Bebbanburg), as well as a number of varied plot goals along the way (to avenge the death of the elder Ragnar, to free Thyra from imprisonment at Dunholm, to rid himself of a curse) he is at the same time caught up in the larger goal that is Alfred’s: the preservation of Wessex and the creation of a single Anglo-Saxon kingdom that will span the island of Britain from the southern coast to the boundary of Alba in the north.
Therefore, while Uhtred is the hero of this series, he must interact with historical figures, especially with Alfred. In this Episode 9 of Season Three, their sometimes bitter, occasionally amicable, mostly rancorous long-standing relationship is brought to a moving and satisfying climax.
The greater part of this episode is taken up with a face to face meeting between the king and Uhtred. It is beautifully written and superbly acted by Alexander Dreymon and David Dawson. I cannot say enough about David Dawson’s remarkable portrayal of Alfred throughout the series, but his work in this episode is especially powerful. The action in this scene is muted, but both actors convey depths of emotion through their expressions alone: surprise, regret, defiance, fear, doubt, despair, determination, hope, grief.
Actress Eliza Butterworth’s fine portrayal of Ælswith as Alfred’s officious, obnoxious wife has made her the harpy that fans love to hate. But her character has always been complex–tender in her sometimes smothering care of her family but inconsistent in her attitude toward Uhtred. Sometimes she hates him and all that he stands for; sometimes she accepts him grudgingly as a necessary evil. Sometimes she has even urged the king to trust him; but not this time.
Still, her unwelcome interruption serves to move the action further forward, leading to a glance of mutual understanding between the two men; to Alfred’s defense of his wife, “She is angry that I am dying”; to Alfred’s plea that Uhtred protect Edward; and to the pardon he gives to Uhtred that, for the first time, has no strings attached. At the end of that scene I was watching with tear-filled eyes.
A great many other plot strings were left hanging at the end of this episode: Will Uhtred get out of prison? (I’m counting on Finan.) What will happen to Thyra? (I don’t want to think about Thyra. It hurts.) What will Brida do in the Danish camp? (Dispense with Cnut, one hopes.) Will Edward be crowned? (Historically, yes.) Will Ragnar get to Valhalla? (We’re rooting for him.) Will the Danes attack? (There is always a battle at the end, so yes.) Will someone please put an end to Æthelwold? (Perhaps not yet, unless Brida gets her hands on him.)
It appears that Episode 10 has a lot of ground to cover.
All photos: Netflix, THE LAST KINGDOM